“Thank you, Stuke…Stuke, thank you…STUKE!!!”
“Thank you for grabbing that.” Amy said as she tugged on her wedding photo I had clutched in my hand, bringing me back to the school, her office and reality.
“I’m sorry.” I said, letting go of it like it was cursed.
“Are you ok?” she asked concerned.
I was far from it but if I tried explaining things to her about Gums, my broken heart and how I’d been living life like Keith Richards in the 70’s then she’d think I was crazier than a skunk fucking a football so…
“Yeah everything’s fine, are we gonna enroll me now?”
“You bet!” she cheered and then had me start filling out a pile of forms.
“Have you always wanted to do hair?” she asked as I was signing my name on a contract I was too drunk to understand.
“Ever since this morning.” I heard myself say aloud.
“I’m sorry, what?”
“…I meant ever since I can remember. I told my friend Jay I was coming here this morning.”
“Oh nice! What’s Jay think about you doing hair?”
I could hear Jay’s nasally voice echoing in my head It’s a HUGE mistake It’s a HUGE Mistake…
“He thinks it’s a huge…step…in the right direction.”
“Awesome! We’re so happy you’re joining the Paul Mitchell Family!”
Hearing the word “family” felt nice. Ever since Gums had left I’d been keeping myself isolated but the thought of being a part of something bigger than my own misery made me feel a sense of belonging.
Although I’m sure this is how people felt when Charles Manson told them how happy he was when they were joining his family too, so, you know, this whole thing could go either way.
“Alright.” Amy said as I finished with the last of the papers. “How would you like to pay for tuition?”
Here’s my problem when I choose to do impulsive things:
I only see the end result such as “If I do hair I’ll make lots of money” but I neglect all the steps that come before it such as “I must first pay money to learn how to do hair.” But in staying true to my impulsive nature I’d just cashed out my 401K so tuition shouldn’t be a-
“How much is it?”
“Oh.” I said, realizing the numbers I had in the bank were much lower than the numbers she’d said.
“But we do offer financial aid if you’re interested.”
I’d never gone to college because I wanted to be a Rockstar and Rockstars don’t go to college, Rockstars go to jail and rehab. So I had no idea how financial aid worked, how predatory lending systems operated or how high-fixed interest rates could fuck you longer and harder than prison rape for the rest of your life which means…
“Sure, let’s do that!”
“Perrrfect.” Amy said with a smile. “Rene handles all of our financial aid, follow me.”
She led me up a flight of stairs and down a long corridor stopping outside an office with black tinted glass and a pile of beaten up doll heads next to the door. The faint scent of vanilla perfume and meat loitered in the air.
“Here we are.” Amy said, devoid of her usual pep. She knocked on the door and then turn and ran, leaving me with the words “Good luck!”
Seconds passed and I was getting ready to knock again when a deep, masculine voice bellowed from beyond the door.
I opened the door wondering if this Rene person was a man or a woman and then got my answer.
Sitting behind a desk was a large, foreboding, mountain of a black woman with a scowl on her face and all 6’1 and 300+ pounds of her body stuffed into a black dress that looked like it was about to explode.
She had long, thick dreads that fell to the desktop, laying there like tentacles that at any moment would reach out and choke me. And if they didn’t strangulate me then the smell of vanilla perfume and meat that filled the office would.
“What do you want?” she asked point blank.
“Are you Rene?”
“What’s the name plate on my desk say?”
“Uh, it has the letters HMFIC on it. Is that Russian for Rene?”
“No. It’s an abbreviation.”
“A Russian abbreviation for Rene?”
She let out a long, contemptuous sigh, allowing me to smell the chili-cheese dog she’d had for breakfast. “It’s an abbreviation for HEAD MOTHER FUCKER IN CHARGE.”
“OH!!!! Well it’s nice to meet you, Ms. HMFIC.” I said, holding out my hand.
“Put that thing away.” she said staring at me until I did so. “Why are you here?”
“I need financial aid.”
“Here.” She said, throwing me a pamphlet and a #2 pencil.
“A standardized knowledge test. We’re required by law to administer one to every student who’s applying for financial aid.”
“You’re full of questions.”
“My mom says I’m inquisitive.”
“That’s a nice way of saying you’re fucking nosy.”
“She’s told me that too.”
“I don’t doubt it.” she said, looking even more irritated. “The test is to demonstrate the student applying for financial aid has the competence to complete our course.”
“Anyone ever fail it?”
“Why do you think I gave you a pencil?”
“So you can change any wrong answers?”
“Ding, ding, ding.”
“Oh I got it right!?”
“Just take the god-damn test.”
I took the god-damn test which consisted of knowing things like how to operate a blow dryer, what a comb was used for and the difference between thinning sheers and cutting sheers. I handed it back to Rene when I was finished and she graded it.
“Perfect score.” She said with zero enthusiasm.
“That’s pretty awesome!”
“Dial it back, spaz. It wasn’t the Bar Exam.”
She had me fill out another stack of forms and then entered everything into her computer.
“Not only am I the person that facilitates your loan but I’ll also be keeping track of the 1600 hours you have to complete in order to graduate. Will you be attending school full-time?”
“Yeah, I don’t have anything else goin’ on.”
“I totally believe that. You’ll have a year to complete your course and if after that time you still haven’t done so you’ll owe us more money…a lot more money, and I’ll be the one getting if from you.”
“So you’re kinda like a loan shark?”
“A whale can easily kill a shark and baby boy, I’m at the top of the food chain ‘round here. So if you’re gonna call me anything, call me a whale because sharks are inferior.”
I didn’t know if she saw the irony in this but fuck me if I was gonna point it out.
“And if I’m at the top of the food chain do you know where that puts you?”
“Exactly, and don’t forget it.” she said handing me the forms that made me an official Paul Mitchell student.
“Class starts next Tuesday at 9:30 am. Dress code is black on black, no exceptions. Make sure you’re on time.”
“Are you straight?”
“Like am I cool with everything you just said?”
“No, you god-damn dolt. Like do you like women?”
“Oh. Yeah. I love women, although they don’t always love me back.”
“That surprises me.”
She let out another long, chili-cheese dog scented sigh. “I was being sarcastic.”
“Now I’m sure you noticed that most of our students are women. The school has very few straight men such as yourself which means you’ll be a unicorn here and every woman will be trying to ride your sparkly dick to freedom.”
Up until this point I hadn’t thought about my chances of getting laid. Now it was all I could think about.
“I implore you, DO NOT let your dude-piece get you into trouble.” She said standing up and towering over me like the Hulk. “Cuz if you start to hitting every piñata in sight, that’s gonna stir up drama and if you stir up drama you and me gonna have some issues. Do I make myself clear?”
In the course of my life I’d come to know the difference between an empty threat and a real one.
Empty threats rolled off like water. Real ones made my armpits tingle and right now they were stinging.
“I’m straight.” I said looking up at her with the most reassuring smile I could muster.
“Just. Leave.” she ordered.
I left with a stack of papers, a 23k government bounty on my head and a newfound appreciation for fresh air.
“You made it!” Amy said as I got to the bottom of the stairs, hugging me like I’d just dodged death.
“Why do you smell like hotdogs?”
The entire process had taken enough time for me to start feeling sober which was not a nice feeling so I decided it was the perfect time to celebrate my new enrollment and new life by doing the same old thing.
I walked out of the school and into the Mexican restaurant 20ft away from it, sat down at the bar and ordered a shot of Patron, and then another one.
“Drinks this time of the day means it’s either a real good one or a real shitty one.” the bartender said.
“It’s good…I think. I just enrolled at Paul Mitchell.”
“You don’t look gay.”
“I’m not. Straight guys can do hair too, obviously.”
“True. I just figured you for some sort of rockstar with the tattoos and eyeliner, and the fact that you’re pounding tequila at 2pm on a Wednesday afternoon.”
“Is that what day it is?”
“Even more of a reason for me to think what I thought.”
I slammed my second shot of Patron.
“I never made it to being a full-fledged rockstar, got close and then…poof. All gone.”
“How’d you end up here then?”
“I haven’t really thought about it but if I had to guess I’d say a series of bad decisions, one right after the other. I seem to excel at those types of things.”
“Well drinkin’ leads to thinkin’, Paul Mitchell’.” he said as he poured me another shot of Patron. “This one’s on me.”
I slammed the shot and then caught my reflection in the mirror behind the bar. I hardly recognized what was looking back at me. Gone was the courageous, defiant dream chaser that had moved to L.A. a decade ago and in his place a broken down, mess of a man too afraid to face life sober.
I knew my current crisis was the result of Gums leaving me but I also knew she was just one ugly brush stroke in a larger picture I’d been painting that went back to the winter of 2001.
Back then life had seemed so bright but over time that light started to fade, both outside and inside of me. But it faded slowly, the type of slow that you don’t notice the light is disappearing until you find yourself standing in the dark, unable to see and unable to know which direction you should go. So you just stay there…